BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - MAY 09: Javi Martínez of Athletic Bilbao challenges Radamel Falcao of Atletico Madrid during the UEFA Europa League Final between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao at the National Arena on May 9, 2012 in Bucharest, Romania. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Part of Chelsea's prize for winning the Champions League is the right to play in the less prestigious Super Cup, and that's exactly what they'll be doing this weekend, squaring off against Spanish side and Europa League winners Atlético Madrid. I'm going to split the scouting preview into two parts for this match, firstly, I'm going to take a look at Madrid's clearest danger, Radamel Falcao, and later this week I'll be taking look at the Madrid side as a whole.
Falcao is the stereotypical centre forward in an era where those stereotypes have perhaps ceased to have meaning. He is essentially, a pure centre forward, and stifling his predatory instincts will be Chelsea's most difficult task on Friday. Many of you will be well aware of what Falcao brings to the table, as he's been a long mooted target for the club. With his astonishing goal scoring stats, it's hard not to see what is so attractive about the Colombian. He's scored thirty goals in two years in Europe, scoring in consecutive finals in 2011 and 2012 for Porto and Madrid respectively. There's certainly an argument to say that Falcao is the best pure striker in the world at present time.
What makes him so dangerous? Firstly, his primary attribute is finishing, and he's very good at it. Capable of scoring with both feet, he has a Mario Gomez style knack for popping up inside the box for scrappy goals, but also the ability to make clever runs, especially off the shoulder of opposition defenders. Much like Didier Drogba demonstrated in the FA Cup Final, he has an acute understanding of knowing when to peel away at the right time, opening up space for his midfielders to make passes towards goal. Despite standing at just 5'10", he also a remarkable capacity for scoring goals with his head, and the likely Chelsea centre back pairing of David Luiz and Gary Cahill (John Terry is suspended) will need to ensure they stay tight to the striker in the likelihood of service out wide, especially from Koke on the right wing. Cahill in particular will need to be more mobile than he was against Pavel Pogrebnyak of Reading. Falcao likes to make runs from the left side of the pitch, meaning he will most likely attack the right side, where Cahill will be stationed.
Taking a holistic tactical look, Falcao is always the central man of any side he plays in. He doesn't really have the skill set to play in any other position (although for a while at Porto he played on the wing), and while this versatility may seem a hindrance, it is perhaps negated by his clinical finishing. Furthermore, while he may not be versatile in terms of positions, he is certainly versatile systematically: he played as the lone striker in a 4-3-3 under Andre Villas-Boas, supported by two wingers who played high up the pitch (Varela and Hulk). Last season at Madrid, he played in a 4-2-3-1 system which was rather similar to the formation adopted by Roberto Di Matteo, relying on a blossoming relationship between a central playmaker and a centre forward. Last season that was on-loan Diego, who has since returned to Wolfsburg. It seems Arda Turan will move into the Brazilian's central role this season, with the Turk having been selected there for Madrid's first two games of the season (this was perhaps natural given Turan's tendency to drift into central playmaking positions).
For Madrid, he is the fulcrum of the sides attack, working the channels as the lone striker to shut down passing lanes for the team in possession. He's actually quite good from a defensive point of view - he did an excellent job closing the ball down in last season's Europa League final, whilst remaining an outlet on the counter attack (epitomised by his brilliant second goal) - and this carries on from his time at Porto, where he was crucial to the pressing approach adopted by Andre Villas-Boas side.
Chelsea will constantly need to be aware of Falcao's threat. They can, theoretically, shut down the service and thus deny Falcao the ball, as he doesn't boast the physique to enable him to turn direct balls into a goal threat that say, a Zlatan Ibrahimovic possesses. He's a very fine breed of striker though, and one that will provide real headaches for Chelsea's defence. Chelsea could also, in theory, play a high line and attempt to bring Falcao higher up the pitch and away from his zone of most comfort, the penalty box, although he does possess the pace to capitalize on any balls over the top. If Chelsea deny Madrid possession, Falcao may look to come deep in search of the ball, as he did for Colombia in 2011 Copa America. That wasn't taking full advantage of his talents, and it showed. The primary focus for Chelsea will be ensuring that the double pivot provides enough protection to deny him the service he needs.